Brands in a no-attention economy

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Brands in a no-attention economy

I’ve said for some time that brands seem to be taking more and more of their prompts from the fashion industry – in how they act and how they think. Not surprising, given that the upgrade economy now demands that brands refresh and update their products with increasing frequency. Indeed as Matt Baxter-Reynolds points out in this article on the likelihood of an Apple iWatch, “over the past dozen or so years Apple behaves more Louis Vuitton and Prada than Microsoft or Samsung.”

That being the case, it’s interesting to look at fashion journalist Suzy Menkes’ recent observations on the pace at which the fashion industry itself is now forced to work, and to ask whether we can expect the same behaviours across the wider brand spectrum.

Once, says Menkes, a handful of fashion houses produced four seasonal collections. But today, with thousands of designers in the marketplace, promotional shows in Asia, Dubai and Brazil and between-season showings, the industry has 138 fashion weeks worldwide, and schedules that pack in up to 264 shows over five days. That’s an ongoing blur of collections – shown, noted and then forgotten as everyone moves onto the next thing.

The world today is, as Bite Global describes it, “always-on”. And that constant need for connection, interaction and conversation requires ongoing subject matter – an investment that is rewarded, cruelly, with less and less attention, as tweets and posts are made, read, applauded or disregarded. Paul Adams’ observation that “audiences are building relationships with brands in the same way they build relationships with their friends – through many, lightweight interactions over time” rings alarmingly true.

Which is ironical isn’t it, because on the one hand, research from Edelman and others clearly shows that consumers want their brands to be meaningful and ethical and yet, at the same time, they want to be able to pay them only passing attention. Mean something in a moment – consumers seem to be increasingly saying – and mean something we next visit you. But don’t expect ongoing interest by way of reward.

We’ve had the attention economy. Is this the no-attention economy? Always on. But seldom there. An economy dominated by authentic moments, played out against a long game. Because if that’s the case then, as the people at Bite have rightly observed, that shift brings with it profound changes in how brands need to plan their storylines. “The age of ‘the big idea’ has been replaced by the value of the ‘long idea’ … Implementing Long Ideas over time in an increasingly visual world demands storytelling expertise, agility, creativity and technological skill”

True. But I’m not so sure it’s either the big idea or The Long Idea. I suspect it’s increasingly “and”.

To keep any semblance of top-of-mind in a no-attention economy, brands with Long Ideas will need to sparkle as well as to span. Brands will need to be explosive in the moment – to appear with a hiss and a roar, and preferably a good talking point – but do so against storylines that are patiently strategised and carefully nurtured to maturation.

Menkes’ main concern for the fashion designers seems to be one of pace – the sheer velocity of creativity. I think it’s more complex than that for brands generally. Because if The Long Idea holds true, then brands will increasingly play out against two polarised timeframes – the Big Bang, or rather a series of Big Bangs, and the Long Idea.

If that becomes the case, then the real challenge will be to nail each single “moment” (experience, show, release) for all its worth whilst remaining absolutely single-minded (to the purpose, in the culture, to your values) to what the brand must mean and be worth over time.

Photo of “Texting” taken by Kamyar Adl, sourced from Flickr

3 thoughts on “Brands in a no-attention economy

  1. Mark – taking cues from a category as fickle and mercurial as fashion is a terrifying concept. The half-life of who is/isn’t important, vital, fashionable and en vogue is measured in milliseconds. Granted there remain a few behemoths but those are few and far between. The velocity of creativity, as you so eloquently put it, seems almost impossible to sustain – and hit with any kind of regularity. #groanofdespair.

    1. I agree Hilton. It does seem terrifying – but then you look at fashion brands like Burberry who I think have done a marvellous job of combining Big Bang moments (like their Regent St store and the opening in Shanghai) with a Long Idea built around their history. Maybe there’s hope after all …

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